Judge faces a fight for job

Judicial races aren’t usually exciting, but this year’s judicial contests in Snohomish County Superior Court could be more interesting than most.

At least one sitting judge, whose courtroom a lot of lawyers shy away from, is expected to face a challenge. In addition, two newly appointed judges might be vulnerable to facing an opponent because they are not well established on the bench.

The weeklong filing period for judges and other political races started Monday and concludes at 5 p.m. Friday.

A state administrative law judge, Eric Lucas, 49, of Everett said he will file against Judge David Hulbert, 52, of Lake Stevens. Hulbert is expected to seek a new four-year term. He is the only one of the 14 current judges who didn’t file on Monday.

One of the reasons Lucas said he will file against Hulbert is that the jurist has been rejected, mainly by the defense bar, far more than any other judge.

Lawyers have filed 134 affidavits of prejudice against Hulbert over the last 41/2 years. All other judges combined netted 145 affidavits in that same period.

Under court rules and state law, attorneys are permitted to disqualify a judge from a case without stating a reason for doing so – an affidavit of prejudice. Only one affidavit is allowed per case.

In short, the lawyer asks for the affidavit because he or she doesn’t think the client would get a fair trial with the assigned judge.

Among the thousands of criminal and civil cases filed each year, there were a total of 279 affidavits for all judges in the period, according to a report done by the Snohomish County clerk’s office at The Herald’s request.

All 14 Snohomish County Superior Court judges are up for re-election this fall. The job pays $121,972 a year.

Sitting judges are rarely challenged. However, Gov. Gary Locke recently appointed Stephen Dwyer and Michael Downes to vacant seats. They could be vulnerable because they’re not well established.

Neither drew any competition on the first day of filing.

Hulbert said he takes no offense when someone files an affidavit against him.

Fairness is not necessarily the reason why affidavits of prejudice are filed, lawyers said. Sometimes the reason could be as simple as trying to delay a trial or hearing.

Also, a lawyer might expect to lose, prompting an affidavit against a judge who is likely to give a heavy sentence for that crime, public defender Susan Gaer said. Some judges tend to sentence a convicted defendant to a longer prison term than others for particular crimes, she added.

Affidavits also are part of the strategy when considering how a judge might rule before and during a trial.

Bill Jaquette, who heads the Snohomish County Public Defender office, said he files an affidavit “if I think I could do better in a different court. I think what we’re saying is, with respect to a particular quality we’re looking for, we would do better with another judge.”

Lucas said he’s a big believer in challenging the system, and he’d be a fair judge. He applied for an appointment to the Superior Court bench when Dwyer was appointed early this year.

He chose to run against Hubert partly because “I see a situation where people say they’re not getting a fair trial.”

Hulbert admits he’s likely to give tougher sentences to defendants convicted of sex crimes. He considers that a badge of honor. All but 33 of the 134 affidavits filed against him were in criminal cases, according to the clerk’s report.

On the other hand, defense attorneys have told Hulbert that “they appreciate trials in my courtroom,” he said. “They and their clients are treated with respect.”

Reporter Jim Haley: 425-339-3447 or haley@heraldnet.com.

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